Is God actually like the Zeus-like man depicted in Michelangelo's 16th Century painting, or like the Divinity reconsidered by the great rationalist thinkers of the 17th Century and the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th Century, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson?
There has been much debate about that ever since, to the point that today humanity is deeply divided over it. And it is no wonder that there are raging conflicts about the name and nature of God, about “God’s will,” about religion and religious prophecies, and about whether God even exists or not.
It’s no wonder because most people do not really understand the real nature of God, or the true purpose of religion. That is especially true of those on the extreme opposite sides of the conflict and argument, because on one side are misguided Theocrats who want to rule and control society “in the name of God,” and on the other side are misguided Atheists who understandably react against religious bigotry and theocratic imposition but go so far as to try to "prove" God doesn't even exist.
However, even most of those who are more moderate or in the middle, who are either religious or "spiritual but not religious" do not realize what God really is. And that's no wonder either. The official canons of organized religions have implanted very firm ideas of what God is.
King David, in the Hebrew Tanakh, described God as follows in Psalm 18:6-10: “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God. He heard my voice out of his temple ... Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth [angry]. Smoke came out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.”
By no coincidence, 2 Samuel 22:7-11 states the same thing: “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple ... Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind.”
Also by no coincidence, the vision that smoke came out of “His” nostrils and consuming fire came from His mouth, as mentioned by David and Samuel, is much like the vision of God as a devouring storm god like Enlil, Siva (or Shiva), Zeus and Indra (or Sakra), all of whom were named prior to the Jewish name of YHVH (“I am” or Yahweh or the English Jehovah).
Even Jesus of Nazareth, perceived as a ghost as reported by John in his book of Revelation, spoke of “the sword of my mouth,” which carries over the idea of a vengeful divinity (especially since Christians are required by official church canon to believe that God is in “three persons,” a “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”).
However, all such ideas concerning a vengeful, violent, destructive God actually stem from ancient, superstitious ideas based on fear of natural phenomena, and the fact is that they are caused not by God but by natural, geological, meteorological, and physiological events. And as we all know, rain falls on the heads of saints and sinners alike. That’s life, after all -- (though we should realize that our planet is a living ecosystem, and when any parts of it are disturbed or damaged, or there is great suffering, pain and loss of life, our whole planetary system is affected.
The problem about misrepresentations of God have been partly because of superstition and ignorance. But the problem has also been caused because roughout history people have been trying to describe God, but at best all they've been able to do is provide concepts of God, because God is, after all, eternal, infinite and omnipresent, and God is impossible to fathom or understand, let alone describe.
Perhaps the best we can do is say that God is the Great Spirit-Parent, the Divine Light-Energy-Sources of our existence, the Supreme Universal Cosmic Consciousness, the Essence of all life and form, and the primordial vibration or "Word" the was in the beginning and is made flesh in all of us.
That is perhaps a more accurate concept of God that may end the conflicts and divisions, because what is needed is a rational, reasonable analysis distinguishing between competing concepts of God and religion, and the real nature of God.
After all, If God had actually “said” things to Moses in an actual voice, and if God actually “appeared” to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that would mean that God was and is a person that can speak and appear to human beings. It would mean that God did it then, and it would mean that God could do it now, as a person.
If that were literally true, God would not need human beings to write what “He said.” God could write a Bible “Himself,” and God could be the eternal King of the World.
However, that is not the case, and the truth is clear because even Jesus of Nazareth said: "God is greater than I" (John 14:28) and “You have not heard God’s voice or seen God’s shape at any time.” (John 5:37) And even though Jesus realized his oneness with God, as we all can, he knew and said he was not God, but God’s servant.
How Did We Get the Idea God is a Person, and a Male?
In many of the Abrahamic traditions, which must be addressed because they are the most widespread and widely followed by Jews, Christians and Muslims, the concept of God is as an almighty but ethereal superman magician who is the creator of all that is and makes everything happen, as if by waving his magic wand. And "he" is often depicted as a man with a long beard — an image reminiscent of how Zeus from Greek mythology is depicted.
Of course, that concept was established in the Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition because Moses wrote the term "living God." Then the book of Joshua, who was given leadership authority following Moses, stated: “And Joshua said to the children of Israel, ‘Come here and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ And Joshua said, ‘Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you ...” (Joshua 3:9-10)
However, that phrase, "the living God is among you," has been grossly misunderstood. Like the idea that Man is made in "God's image," it has led many people to reach the conclusion that God is a man, and even an almighty Superman. That's because in the texts of Judaism, which is the foundation of Christianity and Islam, the Lord God is referred to as “He” and “Him,” and Jesus of Nazareth was reported as calling God “Our Father in heaven.”
However, the irony is that there is ample evidence in the texts of both Judaism and Christianity that contradicts that idea and reveals that God is not a person.
In fact, God was not made in Man's image, even though many patriarchs in the past and present would like to think so. We, in fact, are made in God's "image," which is pure Light and the "face" of God is pure Light, which is why we are "children of Light."
That is why in the Hebrew Bible "the Light of Israel" is mentioned, and those who do not "know the Light and know not the ways thereof, nor abide in the paths thereof," are rebuked.
Remember, Moses wrote: "God is not a man, nor a son of man." (Numbers 23:19)
The book of Isaiah is perhaps the most clear about that, stating that we should not liken or compare God to any man, nor regard any man equal to God, nor worship any idol or image of any man. (See Isaiah 40:18, Isaiah 40:25, Isaiah 42:8, and Isaiah 46:5.)
That is why Jesus said to his disciples: " God is greater than I." (John 14:28) and "You have not heard the voice of God, nor seen God's shape at any time." (John 5:37)
The idea that God is a man is not only contrary to facts revealed in all religious texts, it is extremely problematic. For instance, when people believe God can literally "speak" to them, it can cause deluded people to believe that God "told" them to do something. That is why countless deluded madmen have committed atrocious acts because they thought God told them to do it.
That is also why there have been so many "religious" leaders who have led their blind flocks astray throughout history, and why they still do today. After all, many "Christian" evangelists and televangelists have declared that God "spoke" to them and told them that the world would end, and/or that a so-called "Rapture" would take place on a certain date, only to be proven wrong.
The original inspirations or revelations that planted the seeds of the world’s divinely inspired religions came from the same Source. And human beings have realized the essential nature of that Source at different times and different places in the world throughout history. They just described it and named it in different ways, because each human being perceives things from their own point of view, and describes things from their own frame of reference. Consequently, while divinely inspired religions were all derived from the same Source God, they are different in the way they express the will and the nature of God.
The truth, as Jesus said, is that you cannot hear God's voice, or see God's shape.
The truth is that God, which people call Jehovah or Yahweh or Allah or Brahman or Arura Mazda or Wakan Tanka or some other name, is not a man, nor a person of any gender.
The English name Jehovah is actually the English translation of four Hebrew letters which have been called the Tetragrammaton (from Greek word meaning "four letters"). They are commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH, but the original four Hebrew letters were written not as a name but as a verb meaning “to be,” and it is better understood as "I exist," or 'I am," and as "I am that I am, that which was, is, and will always be."
That is why according to John's book of Revelation, Jesus also used that phrase. But it is important to realize the the “I” is not a person, and it does not refer to a man. When Jesus said such things as "Before Abraham was, I am," and "I am the first and the last," he was speaking as and for the Ancient One, or the "Ancient of Days," not as a mortal man. But as a son of man, Jesus realized his oneness with God, and with the Ancient One, as we all can.
Another scriptural reference to this issue was when Moses asked God what he should tell the people of Israel if they asked who sent him, "God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and thus shall you say to the children of Israel, 'I Am has sent me to you.'" -- Exodus 3:14
Again, the Holy Name of God actually refers to the eternal, infinite, omnipresent Holy Spirit of God. And, as Jesus said, God and the Spirit of truth can be realized and recognized from within.
The question is, how does that Consciousness or "Force" or "The Universe" work? And what effect does it have on and in our lives?
That, for now, is as it has always been -- a mystery. We cannot actually explain how and why the many fortuitous "coincidences" occur in our lives, and we certainly cannot explain the miracles. They cause us to pause and wonder and realize that "something" actually does "watch over us" -- something that is obviously omnipresent and associated with all human beings -- and it works either to our benefit or to our dismay, even if and when we don't "believe" in God.
We can know, however, that it, or God by any other name, is a spiritual force, not necessarily a material one. It can be quite different than the material forces of Nature, which can be very destructive and even deadly. That is what some ancient religious scholars and prophets misunderstood, because they wrote of a God of wrath and destruction, which is why even today people describe natural disasters as "Acts of God."
The truth, however, is that God is a loving, nurturing, merciful, compassionate, understanding Spirit-Parent who, like any good parent, also needs to chastise and correct their children when they go astray. But God does that in mysterious ways that are subtle, and God's methods of chastisement and correction are not harmful and certainly not lethal, for no good parent would harm or kill any of their children -- and God has no control over human beings or animals or the weather or any geological or meteorological events. All notions to the contrary are merely superstition.
Now, a modern interpretation of biblical evidence, considered in the light of all the modern evidence not included in the scriptures, as well as the evidence from other religious sources, the scientific evidence, and the revelation of the modern son of man who directly experienced and realized God, leads to that conclusion and a better way to describe God, as well as an explanation of why God has been so misunderstood.
Religions are also different because their founders, and/or the author or authors of the texts that became the scriptures of religions, were only human. They included not only their descriptions, explanations and interpretations of what they received or realized through revelation. In certain cases they also included their own judgments and opinions, and some of those were inaccurate or even wrong, or were later interpreted in inaccurate and erroneous ways by followers.
Today there are religious zealots who believe otherwise. They vehemently insist that the texts of their religion are “The Word of God,” not understanding that the true Word of God cannot be spoken or written.
However, throughout human history there have been many periods of relative enlightenment. For example, in the 1700s, before, during and after the American Revolution, certain people understood the basic truth about religions. Many creative, innovative thinkers in the 1700s during the period historians call “The Enlightenment” in Europe and America realized that, and some of them were Founders of the United States of America. That is why in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution the Founders used generic terms like “Creator” and “Nature’s God” rather than mention any particular religion or religious figure.
At that time Deism and Freemasonry were very influential among educated people because they recognized God the Deity but rejected dogma and superstition, and they realized how and why misguided, theocratic organized religion had been responsible for the Dark Ages, the Inquisitions, the Crusades, and much of the military industrial imperialism that plagued the world for many centuries.
The Founders of the United States of America understood that, and they realized that there can be no freedom of religion unless government is impartial and neutral regarding religions. They realized that names such as Jehovah, Brahman, the Absolute Tao, the Supreme Consciousness and Allah were merely different names for the Creator who has been recognized and realized by a good many enlightened ones all over the world throughout history.
That is why Thomas Jefferson wrote the following: “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion," the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.” — From Jefferson’s Autobiography, in reference to his Act for Religious Freedom
That is also why Jefferson wrote, voicing the belief of the majority of the Founders: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."
Today Americans need to learn how Jefferson and most of the other Founders felt about religion, and we need to follow the lead of the Founders and go further. We need to have a new period of enlightenment, a new renaissance, and new reformation, realizing not only the real nature of God, but the true purpose of religions.
Similar Concepts of God
One who “sees” and realizes God realizes the same thing that was realized by all other human beings who have realized God. Their perception and comprehension of that may differ, and they may form different concepts of what they have seen, felt and experienced, but because the essence of what they realized is the same, there are remarkable similarities in the concepts of God that we find in the world’s religious scriptures.
For example, in the ancient Hindu Vedas and Upanishads, written in Sanskrit, the Creator or Causal Source was called Brahman. And what the Hindu writings say about Brahman and the relationship between it and human beings is much like what was later expressed by Hindu Avatars, by Lao Tzu in The Book of Tao, by the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, by several writers of the Hebrew Torah and Tanakh (Old Testament), and by Jesus of Nazareth as well.
Some people will be shocked that the Buddha Gautama is included in that list, because some of the original followers of Gautama and many scholars since have concluded that the Buddha didn’t think much of the notion of an omnipotent deity as an entity or a supreme being or creator. However, the Buddha Gautama did realize and recognize the Supreme Universal Consciousness, and, like Jesus, he realized it was within him and within us.
Of course, the Buddha Gautama did not perceive it in terms of an entity, and especially not as a person with gender. However, as you will see, the Buddha’s perception is actually compatible with what all truly enlightened ones perceived and expressed, including Isaiah when he wrote that we can compare God to no man, and Jesus when he said God has no shape.
We should understand that the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama was born in a royal Hindu family and was quite familiar with the Hindu Vedas and Upanishads. In fact, it was because he learned from them that union or “oneness” with “Brahman” or the invisible Source was possible that he decided to ignore the world and look within for the divine Source consciousness, and find or realize it no matter how long it took.
We should also understand that Jesus of Nazareth was also familiar with the Hindu Vedas, which is why some of the parables he taught were similar to what are in the Vedas. In fact, there is considerable evidence that Jesus understood not only Judaism and Hinduism, but Buddhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism as well.
That is not generally known, however, because what we read in the Christian Bible (as we know it) does not clearly indicate that Jesus had such an inclusive world view. On the contrary, Paul and most of the other authors of the epistles and texts that made it into the official Christian church canon thought they were supposed to create a new, predominant religion that would replace all others. But that is not true.
The truth is that the mission of Jesus was to reform, clarify and unite religions, because he knew that the Israelite God Jehovah is the same as the Hindu God Brahman, which is the Supreme Universal Spirit, the origin and support of material universe, and the causal source and essence of all life and form. It is, in some schools of Vedic thought, called the Godhead — which can also be thought of as the Great Spirit-Parent.
Granted, Jesus may have called God “our Father in heaven.” But remember, Christian texts are concerned with what Jesus taught Jews and Greeks in the Mid-East, and since the Jews were familiar with the Hebrew Torah and Tanakh of Judaism, and the Greeks were familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew texts (the Septuagint), that is the frame of reference Jesus used to teach them.
The Hindu Vedas and Upanishads don’t assign gender to Brahman, but rather recognize that God has many aspects, both male and female in character (often referred to as “gods” by people who misunderstand). In Hinduism, Brahman cannot be seen or heard, although its reality and nature can be known through the development of self-knowledge, or self-realization — realization that comes with the union of Brahman and "Atman," which is the union of the Divine Spirit with the human being.
In Christian terms the union of Brahman and Atman is the same phenomenon as the union of God the "Father" and a child of God (which is why Jesus said “I and my Father are one,” and why the Christian apostle John wrote that "We are the sons of God.") And, according to Advaita Vedanta, which is a comprehensive interpretation of the Upanishads, a liberated or enlightened human being has realized Brahman as one with his or her own inner true self (Atman).
The Isha Upanishad says that the Supreme Brahman is infinite, and the infinite proceeds from the infinite. That is similar to what the Book of Tao says, that: "All things derive their life from it [Tao], All things return to it, and it contains them." And that it is very similar to what Jesus said according to the ignored Gospel of Mary Magdalene: "All natures, all formed things, all creatures exist in and with one another and will again be resolved into their own roots, because the nature of matter is dissolved into the roots of its nature alone."
All these things point to the truth of the matter, because even though there are words and phrases in the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity that lead people to conceive of God as “Him,” as a man and a "Father," that is not true. Those references are merely to provide a frame of reference, for lack of a better way of describing God, and, as has been pointed out, their implications are contradicted by many other things written in the Judeo-Christian scriptures.
No human being, even one who has fully realized the nature of God, can possibly fathom or describe God, because one cannot describe what is eternal, infinite, omnipresent, and unseen. How can one describe the ultimate, pure, universal love that only the heart knows and the mind and intellect cannot comprehend?
Again, perhaps the best we can do is say that God is the Divine Light-Energy-Source-Consciousness, the Essence of all life and form. But that Divine Light-Energy Source Consciousness is not like the light of the sun or stars or flame or electricity. It is exceedingly brighter than anything like that, and it is what created or produced everything, including the largest sun and star.
It is what sparked the original creation of all material matter, form and life, from nothing. It wasn’t necessarily a “big bang,” because there was nothing to bang. The Big Bang Theory was a good guess, though, because it was established by Georges Lemaître who was both a great scientist and a deeply spiritual priest. His beliefs and theories and the story of his life (click here) challenge the assumption that science and religion are in conflict.
The material universe more likely sprang automatically from the spiritual “root” of the nature of matter, and that root existed prior to form, life and matter. That is why the mystical part of Judaism, the Kabbalah (aka Qabalah), teaches that God is “No Thing” which manifests itself, and like any true spiritual teaching it too points the true seeker of truth to that ultimate truth that can come only from within.
Of course, today many people speak of God as “The Universe,” which is true in a very significant way. God is in everything. It is the pure essence of every thing – from the smallest nano-particle to the atom to the galaxy to the universe itself – and it is Pure Consciousness in vibratory motion.
As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi more recently said: "All life emerges from, and is sustained in, consciousness. The whole universe is the expression of consciousness. The reality of the universe is one unbounded ocean of consciousness in motion."
Another way of putting it was as Meher Baba did, that: “There is no creature which is not destined for the supreme goal, as there is no river which is not winding its way toward the sea. But only in the human form can consciousness be so developed that it is capable of expressing the True Self, which is the Self of All."
The True Self is not our separate self-conscious ego. It’s our inner soul and spirit, which knows its Oneness with God and all humanity. That is why the current Dalai Lama has said, "The message we hear from all sources of truth is clear: We are all one."
No witness of God who actually realizes that explains it the same way. Like beauty, the divine truth is in the eye of the beholder. We are unique in our perceptions, our conceptions, our descriptions, our explanations, and our points of view. But we are all a part of the Whole.
(Continued at The Nature of God, Part 2, where you will find discussion on The Basic Concepts, Foundation, Development, and Nature of Religions; The Gift of Revelation; The Roots of Religion and a More Accurate Idea of God; and God According To Scientists Like Einstein.)